Sunday, February 14, 2021

Ladybug = lovebug? Actually, not….

LadybugLady beetles may appear cute to the human eye, but in the insect world, they are fearsome predators. Considered by farmers to be a helpful pest control tool, lady beetles are welcome neighbors in Adirondack gardening communities. Nonetheless, there are controversial aspects surrounding these voracious insects. This article will describe the biology and taxonomy of the lady beetles, then discuss the multifaceted roles they play in both human and insect interactions.

Many New Yorkers are familiar with the red, round, and shiny lady beetles, but they may not be aware of the reason why they have their unusual name. In the 1690’s, this insect was named after the Virgin Mary, the “lady” that British farmers would pray to when their crops were afflicted by pests. The red coloration of the insect’s hardened outer wings, known as elytra, reminded them of the red cloak commonly worn by Mary in artwork of the time. In fact, all lady beetles are categorized in the family Coccinellidae, a term drawing its origins from the Latin coccinus, meaning “scarlet.” Many lady beetles are red; however, some are yellow, black, orange, pink, and/or white. 

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Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Decoding katydids’ musical numbers

KatydidSome of us ride out the pandemic by basking in the pale glow of another Netflix binge. Insects play background roles in many of our favorite shows; therefore, my fellow couch surfers might be familiar with closed-caption terms like “insects trilling,” or “insects buzzing.”

While these phrases might capture the qualitative experience of arthropod auditory activities, they overlook the specificity of each message. Here in the Adirondacks, katydids are insects that can be heard producing tailor-made soundtracks through the summer into early fall. This article will describe the characteristics of katydids, explore the different types of songs produced by Adirondack katydids, and explain the impact these songs have on the local ecosystem.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2021

An Occasional Nip Does Some Good

CatnipA friend who once worked nights in a resort bar was asked by a patron where to find “weed.” As it happened, my pal’s day job was farming, and his truck had plenty of hay chaff, so as a prank he bagged some and gave it to the grateful chap. The next night the guy wanted more, claiming it was great, much to my friend’s surprise. “Who knows what else might be growing in the alfalfa,” he quipped to me with a shrug.

My first thought was that it could have been catnip (Nepeta cataria), a member of the mint family which has marked opioid-like effects on cats, and mild sedative effects on humans. It can be found in many herbal tea blends designed to help with stress or insomnia. Native to Europe, Africa and Asia, catnip long ago became naturalized in the Americas, and now grows pretty much everywhere except for the Arctic and high elevations. In fact, if you live in the country, you likely have some growing on your land.

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Friday, February 5, 2021

Red Foxes: Truly Magnetic Creatures

FoxIt takes a matter of seconds for residents here in the mountains to identify a fox.  These small, doglike creatures stick out like a sore thumb as they roam above the now cold, white landscape in their pursuit of their next meal.  Foxes are amazing creatures built for the hunt with numerous abilities that aid in survival.  What are these abilities?

Enhanced senses

It’s not evident from a distance but if you’re privileged to come into close proximity, you would see foxes have vertical pupils. This allows them to see well in the dark as well as giving them a wider field of view, 200 degrees compared to humans at 180 degrees.  Their eyes also have six to eight times more rod cells, allowing the fox to sense motion in the dark.

Foxes have quite the proboscis! They have a very keen sense of smell and have been known to find carcasses of livestock buried under deep snow and several inches below the surface. Their snouts are long and their noses are wet, allowing them to smell by dissolving the chemicals in the air and indicating the wind direction.

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Thursday, February 4, 2021

Amphibian Migrations & Road Crossings Training for Volunteers Feb. 10

salamanderOn rainy spring nights when weather conditions are right, large numbers of salamanders and frogs emerge from winter hibernation in the forest and make their way to woodland pools, where they’ll mate and lay eggs. Many migrating amphibians need to cross roads to reach these vernal pools. The Amphibian Migrations and Road Crossings Project enlists volunteers to find locations in the Hudson Valley where migrations cross roads; document weather and traffic conditions; record migrating amphibians; and help them across the road.

Are you interested in volunteering? The Amphibian Migrations & Road Crossings (AM&RC) Project is offering an online training program on Wednesday, February 10, 4:30 p.m. – 6 p.m. This session will serve as an introduction to new participants and a refresher for returning volunteers. If you’ve never attended an AM&RC training, we strongly encourage you to watch the recorded training modules on YouTube for more in-depth instruction and information, prior to the online program.

The training on February 10 will include:

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Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Find out how to join the 24th annual Great Backyard Bird Count

Barred OwlThe Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a fun event for bird watchers of all ages and abilities, from beginners to experts. The 24th annual GBBC will be held Friday, February 12, through Monday, February 15, 2021. Participants are needed! To help, you will need to count birds for at least 15 minutes (or longer if you wish) for one or more days of the four-day event. You can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world.

If you’re curious about how to participate, Union College’s Kelly Adirondack Center is hosting a Zoom conversation at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6. Featuring John Loz, President of Southern Adirondack Audubon and Chair of the Board of Audubon New York Chapters. John will discuss this year’s boon of irruptive finches and talk about all the other birds people are seeing. He’ll also share how to contribute to this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count and how to view other birders’ entries. Space at this event is limited to facilitate conversation so please register by emailing Margie Amodeo at [email protected].

Each checklist submitted during the GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing and how to protect them. Last year, almost 270,000 people participated in the GBBC. Let’s top that number this year! For more information or to submit checklists visit the GBBC website.

Photo of barred owl by Fred Couse.


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Bald Eagle Viewing in Winter

Bald eagleWinter is a great time to view bald eagles in New York State. Viewing from a safe distance and at planned observation sites can offer an exhilarating and memorable experience. Wintering eagles begin arriving in December and concentrations peak in January and February. Most are heading back to their nests by mid-March.

The Hudson River, the Upper Delaware River watershed, and sections of the St. Lawrence River are great places to view bald eagles in the winter. DEC maintains two well-marked viewing areas in the Mongaup Valley on the Rio and Mongaup Falls reservoirs.

The following tips will help you to have the best possible experience:

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Thursday, January 28, 2021

DEC’s tips for avoiding coyote conflicts

Eastern coyote radio-collared by researchers at DEC and SUNY ESFThe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued guidance to help prevent conflicts between people and coyotes.

“Coyotes may become more territorial during the breeding and pup-rearing seasons, which in New York run from January through March, increasing the risk for potential conflicts with people and pets,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “While coyotes are an important part of New York’s ecosystem, New Yorkers are encouraged to be aware of the increased risks for conflicts and follow DEC’s guidance to prevent coyote encounters.”

The Eastern coyote is found in many habitats, from rural farmland and forests to populated suburban and urban areas across New York State. Coyotes are well adapted to suburban and even urban environments and tend to avoid conflicts with people. However, conflicts with people and pets may occur, particularly during the spring denning and pupping period. If coyotes learn to associate food, such as garbage or pet food, with peoples’ homes, these animals may lose their natural fear of humans and increase the potential for close encounters or conflicts.

To reduce or prevent conflicts with coyotes, New Yorkers are encouraged to take the following steps:

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Assassins and Hunters Lurk in the Shadows

Masked hunterIf you were to confide in a friend that you’ve seen dust-bunnies under the bed come to life, and that you think masked hunters have been stalking you at night inside your house, well, hopefully that’s a REAL good friend. Of course they’d feel a lot better once you explained that masked hunters are a type of assassin bug belonging to the order Hemiptera (true bugs).

Native to Europe and Africa, masked hunters are now widespread throughout North America. These fierce predators of insects and other arthropods get their name from a curious habit of coating, or masking, themselves with detritus and dust as a form of camouflage. Mature adults are shiny, black beetle-like insects measuring about three-quarters of an inch long. During their long “childhood,” though, masked hunters are neither dark nor shiny.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Hardy ground beetles stay active in the cold

For those of us who don’t ice fish or ski, the best part of winter in northern New York is the lack of mosquitoes. Thick blankets of snow muffle the whizzing fervor of our least welcome trail partners, but not all insects go dormant in the winter months.  The family of insects known as ground beetles contains species that remain active throughout the year.

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Friday, January 15, 2021

Surviving The Freeze: Animals in Winter

Winter in the mountains is marked by abundant snowfall.  As mountain residents we are hard wired for winter preparation.  When the trees have shed most of their leaves and become an array of barren branches, we like the squirrels are diligently preparing for a long, cold winter.  Barbeque grills and lawn furniture get tucked away, wood piles are stacked wide and tall, fuel tanks filled, snow blowers fueled up and snow shovels are conveniently propped near the entrance of homes.

We are prepared and equipped for nature’s cold, white glitter we call snow.  With the average daily winter temperature being approximately sixteen degrees, double stuffed jackets, insulated boots and hat & mittens become the general attire.  We have our own form of hibernation as we load our cupboards with yummy snacks and settle in for a Netflix marathon.

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

When it comes to giant hornets, there is great news about bad news

My son, wise beyond his years it would seem, taught me an invaluable lesson when he was a teenager living at home. Any time I got worked into a froth about a broken car, leaky roof or other serious, but non-cataclysmic setback, he’d put things in perspective for me: “Pops, it could always be worse – you could be on fire.”

This is a good model to apply to invasive species. Depending on the situation, they can wreak some genuine havoc, but sometimes the perception of danger is so far overblown that other problems ensue.  It’s important to place an issue in the proper scale, beyond the fact that we are hopefully not surrounded by flames at the moment.

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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Bobcats: Shy, nocturnal and successful 

In the weeks before Christmas, friends of a friend told me about a bobcat sighting they had, while hiking on a trail in southern Essex County. And, not long after that, a very dear friend of mine who lives in the same area sent me a couple of photographs she’d taken of a mound and scratch marks she’d discovered in her yard. She told me that she’d also found what appeared to be claw marks on a nearby tree trunk. A bit of research confirmed that both were signs of a bobcat.

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Friday, January 8, 2021

Pine Cones: Nature’s (useful) seed bearers

As the landscape here in the Adirondacks changes from a sea of green to a frozen wonderland, coniferous trees now become the highlight of the forest flora. The cones that are produced come in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on the species of pine, and are prolific throughout the mountains as decorative items we see on wreaths, baskets arrangements and swags both inside and outside the homes of residents. Aside from their decorating uses, pine cones play an important role in nature. Like all plant parts, they have a very specific function in the plant world. There are approximately 6 species of pine tree in the Adirondacks that are identified by their needle like leaves, seed bearing cones and the bark.  Each cone produced has its unique size and shape and seed capacity. » Continue Reading.


Monday, December 28, 2020

When Jack Frost comes a’calling

hoarfrost

In folklore and literature, Jack Frost is often portrayed as a mischievous guy, sort of Old Man Winter’s younger self. He’s a personification of everything cold. In our region he’s a busy guy, at least for half of the year.

And an artistic one.

He gets credit for painting the trees orange and yellow and red in the fall. And we’re all familiar with ground frost, that harbinger of winter that looks like a dusting of snow. This phenomenon occurs when the temperature of objects near the ground falls below freezing. Water in the air freezes onto objects, sometimes as what looks like frozen dewdrops, sometimes as branched crystals.

Other times, Jack Frost picks up another brush to load everything with the lacy, feathery designs of hoarfrost.

Hoarfrost derives from the old English word “hoary,” meaning, getting on in age. It has the power to excite the poet in us. When you wake on a cold morning and look out to see the entire world — trees, bushes, your car — draped with lacy, feathery crystals glinting in the sunlight, it’s magical. The word “fairyland” comes to mind.

According to John Goff, the lead meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Burlington, hoarfrost is a “common occurrence” across the northern tier of the US, but almost nonexistent in areas with dryer, warmer climates. To form, hoarfrost requires a supersaturated column of cold air extending well above the surface of the ground.

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